John Donne – (Go and Catch A Falling Star – 1)


John Donne (1572-1631)

AG: Yeah, well, one thing that I was noticing, which gets introduced here more than before in Donne – contractions – like “find’st” (so you don’t have to say “findest” or “will find”, it’s just “find’st”, so it’s one syllable – “If thou find’st one, let me know” – da-da dad-a da-da-da – “If thou findst one, let me know” – So I get contractions out of that that I make use of in my own poetry. I made a lot of use of the same kind of contraction. Oddly enough, it’s vernacular (it looks literary on the page) – “If thou find’st one, let me know” – but, in a lot of cases, you’ll find that you could.. in American-ese, you can use that too because so many of the phrasings that you mouth are also contractions but are written-out – like “I will come tomorrow”, but, actually, generally, people say “I’ll come tomorrow” in regular talk, or, “Get on’t” (at various times some people say “Get on’t” – ‘o-n-apostrophe-t” – and when you see an “o-n-apostrophe-t” in Shakespeare, it looks archaic, but it’s actually contemporary speech very often.

So it’s something you can use in your own poetry – more electric sense of that condensation, of syllabic condense.. an electric sense of syllabic condensation, that comes from using the contraction apostrophe . Does that make any sense? Or is that phrasing of it too glorious? It’s useful to know if you’re writing – “If thou find’st one, let me know”

The other thing is when you read – the second stanza, the first two lines of the second stanza — how would you do that again?

Student: First two lines?

AG: Yeah – or ..well..the first three lines

Student: First three lines – “If thou be’st born to strange sights,/Things invisible to see,/
Ride ten thousand days and nights…”

AG: Okay – (But) it didn’t sound right, though (in terms of rhythm). Did it to you? – I finally got “If thou be’st born to strange sights/Things invisible to see” – da-da da- da da-da da – da-da da-da-da- da da

“If thou be born to strange sights” – It’s funny because “If thou be’st” – I ‘d like to say “If thou be’st born to strange sights/Things invisible to.. ” In other words, then, it .. If you’d phrase it aloud right, you’d have to hear some way of making it.. pretty, some way of making it fit, in some way. Donne is notoriously knuckle-y in that way. There are, like, funny funny halts and supposed roughnesses in his cadence (or in his meters), and I think it’s mostly because it isn’t pronounced properly. Scholars, for years, have been saying that this guy, he isn’t smooth, like (Sir Thomas) Wyatt, and he isn’t… there’s some kind of a muscular, masculine, tough un-symmetry about his lines. However, I think he’s got a great ear. In other words, he’s supposed to have, like, a great ear but nobody understands it, quite.

Like..what’s… [turns to Student]  how is Donne considered as an ear, generally..

Student: As an argument..

AG; As an ear, how is he generally considered as an ear?

Student (yes…), except that the unique quality, (is) the quality of thinking..caught up inthe poem

AG: Uh-huh,  Yes, we’ll get to that next.

Student: (I think they’re masterful, urgent poems)…

AG: I was just thinking, first, before getting on to his logics and his intelligence, but I was just trying to get that ear ,or the..ok.. well, in the 1940’s and 1950’s when there was an enormous attention to Donne

Student: Ben Jonson talks about that (that he had a lousy ear)

AG: Yeah 

Student; And rhyme and meter also! {Editorial note – Ben Jonson was quoted as having declared: “Donne, for not keeping of accent, deserved hanging.”]

AG: And I don’t agree. Jonson’s opinion was taken during the time of the New Criticism, when John Donne as a metaphysical poet was considered the acme of logopoeia, “dance of intellect among words”, wit, logic, scientism, intelligence , paradox, new information (like futurology) of his time (seventeenth century, seventeenth century futurology, sort of) – because they’d just discovered America, and he was using that kind of.. he was using science-fiction imagery of his day, or adventure imagery of his day, new discoveries, world maps, cartography – images from cartography and the new sciences of the day – and astronomy, rather than… The early work that we examined was more sensuous and directly related to sensual experiences. There seems to be the beginning in Donne of some kind of funny abstraction and intelligence, intelligent abstraction, moving toward the Industrial Revolution, and looking towards.. like a rigid-ification of thought-forms in Urizenic science and scientific thought, or some, some movement toward industrialization of the mind, of turning the mind into a mill (William) Blake’s term), that might wind up, would lead on into (John) Milton), with very heavy heavy heavy sentences, heavy rational sentences, compared to the airey, delicate, more sensory tunes of the musicians. And, actually, beginning around Donne’s time is a slow departure from music, when speech and song begin to fall apart again, (although, as (Basil) Bunting pointed out, from the fourteenth-century on, in English poetry, most poets wrote with music in,  or were musicians, or lyric and song was really identical. Here in Donne, some of these are songs and some of these are not songs but that comes back to this question – “If thou be’st born to strange sights..” – How do you say it? – “If thou be’st born to strange sights”? – I don’t know how to say it, actually, except to shift the accent to “If  thou best born to strange sights” to fit  “Go and catch a..” “Go and catch a falling star – da-ta da-ta da-ta da – What is that?  trochaic meter? –

to be continued

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-one-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-eight-and-a-half-minutes in}

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